History 454/854: US Foreign Policy in the 20th c.

Course
Mechanics Seminar
Schedule Book List
Links Email The Real Geoff Smith!

Introduction

A mere decade ago, many observers deemed the United States a victim of "imperial overreach," forced to squander its treasure to meet the requirements of its new and somewhat reluctant status as the "Lone Ranger" of the 1990s-the last superpower-and this, even as dynamic Asian corporations were stealing domestic and foreign American markets.

In the last decade, however, things have changed. The U.S. has regained its economic power (now the key international power determinant), even as it walks an ever growing beat as global cop. It is the big gorilla with all the bananas. With its White House-orchestrated NATO mission in Kosovo, where the Republic had few, if any, vital interests to defend, the United States has broken more dramatically than ever with its tradition of nonintervention.

President William Jefferson Clinton, the first president in a half-century free to intervene in the affairs of other nations without worrying about the reactions of the Soviet Union, has done so with true Wilsonian ardour. Early in his presidency he thoughtlessly alienated British PM John Major by intervening in the conflict in Northern Ireland. Then Clinton embraced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), ostensibly a Republican Party initiative, after securing provisions in the treaty that allow Washington to influence the domestic policies of Canada, Mexico, and other Western Hemisphere neighbours on everything from working conditions to environmental safeguards. Then the president went on TV to berate China's leaders for falling short on civil liberties. He also alarmed his State Department when he asserted his strong preference for a united Canada in the 1995 sovereignty referendum.

Decades earlier, as a young intern working for J. William Fulbright, chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton came to resent how the old order of superpower confrontation kept the U.S. from projecting its strength more boldly. In Kosovo, as in Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, and the Middle East, he appears to be trying to impose a new "Clinton Doctrine" of humane intervention. This approach, echoing actions taken by President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), seeks not only to broker peace in civil wars, but also to dictate future arrangements among antagonists. This position turns on its head the counsel of the Republic's sixth president, John Quincy Adams (1825-29), who defined American non-interventionism until the 1930s with his warning that the United States should not go "abroad in search of monsters to destroy." The U.S., he said, is "well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all," but "the champion and vindicator only of her own."

So here we are. How did we get here from there? History 454/854 focuses upon the history and historiography of United States foreign relations from the Spanish-Cuban-Filipino-American War of 1898 through Clinton's attempts to develop a post-cold war global strategy.

Since the late 1960s, historians have raised questions about the character and conduct of U.S. diplomacy. Influenced especially by new left critics of American power, scholars shifted their focus from the study of elite decision-makers and themes of power, nation-state conflict, and the motivations of ruling groups, to considerations of economic, social and cultural problems that engender animosities across frontiers, international corporate capitalism, the importance of public opinion, nationalism, racism, ethnicity, religion and various intangibles in confrontations between societies. More recently, gender questions and deconstruction strategies related to literary theory have impacted upon the historiography of foreign relations. The historian of United States foreign relations must now synthesize materials from diplomatic, political, economic, intellectual, cultural, psychological, and social sources. With the end of the cold war and the emergence of what appears an era of "new world disorder," knowledge of the complexity of global forces (Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, indeed, the "post-industrial world") is even more important than ever.

History 454/854 will involve students with these and other themes. The course is designed not only to make you more familiar than before with the ideas, interpretations, and factual content of American diplomatic history, but also to acquaint you with the scholarly literature and major intellectual problems related to the field. You are, in addition, expected to gain some understanding of broader problems and techniques of historical and social science research, and to think critically as an historian. The course seeks to provide you an understanding of the complexity of the subject, as well as aiding you in developing further important intellectual skills-reading for content, developing good writing habits, and refining your ability to think critically and work independently

Course Mark: Your mark for the course will be determined according to marks received on short papers, commentaries, and research paper. The distribution will be roughly fifty percent for the short papers and critiques and 50% for the research paper.

Office Hours: I will see students in Watson 226 Friday afternoons from 1:30 to 3:30, and by appointment. Feel free to call me at home or use e-mail at smithgs@post.queensu.ca. I am always pleased to see you.

Course
Mechanics Seminar
Schedule Book List
Links Email The Real Geoff Smith!


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